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Iraqis celebrate US troops' pullback

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Injecting a note of realism, he added: 'The explosions will continue, whether the Americans are here or not."

A ceremony with plenty of bravado

Despite concerns that key parts of Iraq's recreated security forces are still heavily reliant on US support, there was no shortage of bravado before the ceremony unfolded.

"I challenge every other intelligence sector in the country," said Assam Atallah of the 9th Division's intelligence battalion. He pointed to one of three armored vehicles modified by the Iraqi Army in the image of an American Stryker vehicle.

"This is our own Stryker," he said. "We designed it 100 percent."

Iraqi security forces have been on high alert for attacks around the June 30 pullout specified under the security agreement signed last year by the two countries.

Under the agreement, all US combat troops have withdrawn from populated areas. Those soldiers allowed to remain in cities, in some of the almost 300 bases the US still holds as it draws down, will be involved in advising and assisting Iraqi forces, rather than in counterinsurgency.

With US troops having taken ever more of a back seat to Iraqi forces since January, the symbolic importance of what Iraq has called its 'Day of National Sovereignty' has taken on added significance.

"The symbolism is important," says government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. "We were injured by losing our sovereignty in the tent of Safwan in 1991, and now we're gradually regaining it."

Mr. Dabbagh was referencing what is seen here as a humiliating cease-fire agreement imposed by the US after the Gulf war, in which Iraq surrendered sovereignty over its air space and its border with Kuwait. It was signed in Safwan, near the Kuwaiti border.

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